Coronavirus Indonesia

Jakarta hospitals facing deluge of patients

Sharp increase in cases has forced them to add beds, set up tents and repurpose spaces

Jakarta residents waiting for their family members to be examined at a tent which Pelni Hospital has turned into its emergency unit due to a surge of Covid-19 patients. Many families of Covid-19 patients are struggling to find hospital beds as bed oc
Jakarta residents waiting for their family members to be examined at a tent which Pelni Hospital has turned into its emergency unit due to a surge of Covid-19 patients. Many families of Covid-19 patients are struggling to find hospital beds as bed occupancy across Jakarta has exceeded 90 per cent.ST PHOTO: LINDA YULISMAN

Tents have popped up and spaces repurposed as hospitals in Jakarta find themselves barely coping with the soaring numbers of Covid-19 patients that have also left medical workers with fatigue and burnout.

Some hospitals have converted their emergency units into isolation sites for Covid-19 cases, while tending to patients with urgent, non-Covid-19 conditions - such as those injured in accidents - in newly erected tents at their carparks.

Others are taking care of Covid-19 patients with mild and moderate symptoms in open tents.

The capital, home to more than 11 million people, recorded 7,680 new Covid-19 cases yesterday, bringing the overall tally to 543,468 - around one fourth of the nationwide tally of 2.18 million.

The tally includes healthcare workers too. As at Monday, 401 doctors and 325 nurses had died of Covid-19, based on data compiled by citizen platform LaporCovid-19.

Calls for a strict lockdown have mounted in Jakarta as the highly infectious Delta variant of the virus boosts the multiplication of cases around the epicentre of the pandemic and neighbouring Banten and West Java provinces.

The national government, led by Coordinating Minister for Economic Affairs Airlangga Hartarto, is finalising details on stricter restrictions in Java and Bali to contain a sharp increase in cases, President Joko Widodo said yesterday.

In a tent at Kramat Jati General Hospital in East Jakarta, doctors were busy sorting out patients with mild to severe symptoms before deciding who would stay in its intensive care unit (ICU). A few patients and their families were queueing quietly for a check-up, unfazed by the sound of a funeral car waiting at the carpark.

"Compared to (what we saw in) February, the speed at which the cases are adding up (in June) is very high. In just three or four days, the hospital has been full," Dr Nur Chandra Bunawan, an internal medicine physician at the hospital, told The Straits Times.

As it has only six ICU beds, the hospital is now treating around 30 patients with severe symptoms in regular wards that were converted into isolation rooms, and repurposing dozens of others, going beyond its overall capacity of about 70 beds. Its emergency room is for critically ill patients, while its lobby has been turned into wards.

"Medical workers have experienced fatigue, burnout," said Dr Nur Chandra, a 35-year-old father of a toddler. "Sometimes I wonder if we can win over this virus. But still, we cannot give up. With the available manpower and facilities, we must serve all patients."

Dr Galuh Chandra Kirana Sugianto described the unexpected sharp rise of incoming Covid-19 patients since the end of May as "a storm", pushing the two private hospitals where she works to add beds each week.

One of the hospitals, which opened in April last year with 30 beds, has added 15 to 20 beds weekly, bringing the total to about 150 beds.

  • 7,680

    New Covid-19 cases in Jakarta yesterday.

"This is the worst period in my nearly 11/2-year history of handling Covid-19," the 35-year-old internal medicine physician told ST. "I can see 70 to 100 patients during my shift. It's extremely tiring."

And there are days when she has to take on another shift back to back in the second private hospital, where she takes care of another 30 patients.

"Sometimes, I don't enter the wards because I really can't (do it) any more. Then, I just monitor (the patients) from CCTV (closed-circuit television) or have video calls with them," she added.

While healthcare workers experience fatigue and burnout, many families of Covid-19 patients struggle to find hospital beds as bed occupancy across Jakarta has exceeded 90 per cent.

A West Jakarta resident, who refused to be named, said that she and her family had checked a number of hospitals in Jakarta and Tangerang for their 69-year-old father who had shortness of breath, only to find waiting lists of up to 30 patients in some of the hospitals.

"After the three-day quarantine (at home), my father's situation worsened. On the fourth day, he finally got admitted," she told ST at Tarakan General Hospital in Central Jakarta where her father was lying unconscious in the ICU. "At least, we feel more relieved (this way) than keeping him at home."

LaporCovid-19, which helps people find hospital beds, has received 65 requests for 83 beds from June 16 to June 29, much higher than the 36 requests for 52 beds between Dec 24 last year and Jan 30, the period when the cases peaked.

"It has never happened before in Indonesia. We are experiencing what has occurred in India, such as a queue to bury the dead and shortage of oxygen supply. Why don't we consider this as an emergency?" said Dr Tri Maharani, a volunteer of LaporCovid-19 and an emergency medicine doctor.

Mr Jan Gelfand, head of Indonesia's delegation at the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, which aids the Indonesian Red Cross to ramp up the treatment of people, said: "Every day, we are seeing this Delta variant driving Indonesia closer to the edge of a Covid-19 catastrophe."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 01, 2021, with the headline 'Jakarta hospitals facing deluge of patients'. Subscribe